How much of a toll can construction work have on our wellbeing?
Everyone knows that construction work can be potentially dangerous if you’re not careful, and failure to comply with health and safety standards can have disastrous consequences.
But how many people consider the effect that the day-to-day jobs have on your body – both physically and mentally?
We conclude our “Health & Safety In Construction” series by taking a look at the toll that construction work can have on our physical and mental health.
To view Part 1 of this series, “Working At Height In Construction”, click here. To view Part 2 of this series, “Manual Handling In Construction”, click here. To view Part 3 of this series, “Electrical Safety In Construction”, click here. To view Part 4 of this series, “Harmful Substances In Construction”, click here. To view Part 5 of this series, “Controlling Noise In Construction”, click here.
If you’ve been following this series, you know that we have talked about the many different dangers and risks that come with working on construction sites.
You’ll also know that we’ve talked about some of the permanent damage that these risks could lead to, but we’ve decided to take a further look at the long terms effects that construction work has on the body.
Long term risks
Physical work over a long period of time is always going to have an effect on your body, so it’s important that we are doing everything we can to protect ourselves.
If you work with any kind of vibrating equipment, especially hand-held, you need to be aware of the risks of long term use.
Vibrations from machinery can actually leave you with permanent damage, leading to conditions like vibration white fingers, also known as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). This conditions causes numbness, affecting the blood vessels and nerves and could result in loss of fingers in extreme cases.
Manual handling is another area of concern, with serious damage to arms, legs and back all possible after repetitive actions. Lifting with incorrect posture or technique can result in permanent damage over time, and will ultimately lead to a struggle in later life.
Frequent work in awkward positions can affect the arms, fingers, shoulders and neck in a serious way. Upper Limb Disorders (ULDs) are caused by repetitive strain, and symptoms include aching, weakness and the feeling of numbness.
As we’ve previously spoke about, constant exposure to loud, noisy equipment also proves to be a real risk to your hearing. The long term effects from overexposure to excessive noise can range from ringing in the ears to total deafness in some cases, so don’t underestimate what a bit of noise can do.
With so many risks as a result of everyday construction work, it can be enough to not make you want to pick up another tool. But this is the not the solution.
Health and safety of workers should be at the forefront of any employer’s minds, and looking after the wellbeing of employees needs to be a priority. Efficient training is essential to ensuring the safety of workers, and people need to be signed off before commencing work using potentially damaging equipment.
To reduce the effects of repetitive strain, there needs to be systems put in place so no single worker is experiencing overexposure to the risks we have just spoken about. A reduced amount of time paired with the correct PPE should see a drop in risk and an increase in morale and productivity.
We are also seeing more and more advances in technology to help reduce the strains of physical labour, prolonging workers’ careers and greatly reducing the risks of physical issues. With no sign of slowing down, we could see the industry adapt the use of robot technology alongside manual work to create a safer line of work.
Now that we’ve recapped some of the risks that come with the physical side of construction work, it’s time to talk about the effect it can have on the mind.
Mental health is something that is becoming more and more talked about as a society, but we are still not there yet. We’ve seen a lot more people openly talk about their struggles with their own mental health in the past few years, but this is only the start.
Mental health issues
Mental health is described as “a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being”, and naturally there are going to be some issues that come with it.
Most people experience a struggle with their mental health at some point in their life, but the construction industry is one of the largest areas of concern.
Depression and anxiety are common forms of mental health issues that people struggle with on a daily basis, and can lead to suicide in some cases.
The construction industry can be very challenging and stressful on the body and the mind, with long hours and labour taking their toll. In an industry that is predominately male, there is often a pressure to act “tough” and not express feelings – which can be very dangerous.
With a similar routine every day and the stigma surrounding expressing your feelings, it’s not hard to see why construction workers often experience mental health struggles.
As of 2018, suicide kills more people than falling from height in construction. With that statistic, it’s clear that we need to be putting as much time and effort into preventing this as possible.
Spotting the signs
Identifying the signs of a person struggling with their own mental health is very important to fixing the problem, and could be the difference between saving a life.
Common signs of some suffering could be a lack of confidence, increased lateness, a change in personality, decrease in motivation or productivity, easy agitated or generally looking overwhelmed.
If you notice that something isn’t quite right with someone, it’s always best to speak up and offer a helping hand.
How to help
As we’ve said, there is still a stigma surrounding speaking up and letting people know you are struggling, so this is the first thing to change.
Creating a positive and open working environment is key to allowing people to express their feelings and seek help if they need it. Providing support and listening to people will greatly reduce any stigma about mental health, and will make a huge difference.
Make sure everyone knows how to identify the signs of poor mental health and can deal with it in a delicate manner.
Lastly, checking in on people and talking to them will have a big impact. Making sure everyone is feeling alright and having regular catch ups where possible will ensure that any issues someone may be having can be talked about, and dealt with in the correct way.
In the conclusion to our “Health & Safety In Construction” series, we’ve found that mental health is actually one of the biggest areas of concerns in the industry.
With all of the various risks from a physical standpoint, it might be a shock that our own well-being is the biggest risk.
If you are experiencing poor mental health, it’s important to speak up and talk to someone.
For more interesting articles and updates, be sure to keep an eye out on the Cornerstone blog.